JERUSALEM -- Thousands of Palestinians gathered for a second Friday of big protests along the fence dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip. By evening, the Palestinian Health Ministry said at least eight Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,000 injured by Israeli fire.
After midday prayers, the crowds were thinner than last Friday at the same time as thick black smoke from burning tires created a smokescreen between the Israeli snipers and crowds of Palestinians across the fence. The Israeli military estimated some 15,000 protesters were positioned along the fence early afternoon today.
The Israeli military was lobbing tear gas over the fence and said its snipers had shot at least 10 people "in the legs."
It is week two of what Palestinians are calling the "Great March of Return," which started last Friday and is slated to continue through May 15. The end date marks the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding, which Palestinians annually recognize as the day of nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes.
The new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is also supposed to open this May 15.
At least 22 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military in the past week, most of them succumbing to wounds from last Friday's protest, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. Nearly 1,500 people -- 1,492 -- were injured in the protests, including 750 from live ammunition used by Israeli soldiers, the ministry said.
The Israeli military said the number of bullets used is lower, and that it fired only at what it called the "main instigators" who approached the border fence with the intention of crossing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, along with other international human rights organizations, expressed concern over the high death toll.
“The human toll demonstrates the importance for all sides to take all possible precautions to minimize exposure to harm and casualties among the civilian population,” the acting head of the ICRC in Gaza, Fabrice Edouard, said in a statement. “We recognize Israel’s security concerns, yet it is imperative that lethal force only be used as a last resort and when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."
The Israeli military released a statement Friday morning saying, "[Israel Defense Forces] are responding with riot dispersal means, and fire in accordance with the rules of engagement. The IDF will not allow any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians, and will act against those who are involved in these attacks."
The United Nations has meanwhile urged an independent investigation into the use of force, and Secretary General António Guterres called again for restraint today.
"In light of the tragic events of the 'Great Return March' last Friday, I reiterate my call on all concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further violence or place civilians in harm's way, especially children," Guterres said. "I call upon all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and exercise maximum restraint. I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully."
Crowds at the protests are expected to grow larger following Friday afternoon prayers.
Bruno Nota and Nasser Atta reported from Jerusalem, Molly Hunter from London